For the purpose of this discussion cultural norms business and meeting pratices and values in the country GERMANY are as follows:-
Attitudes and values are the foundation of every country’s culture, and are the building blocks for developing business culture. Cultural influences, attitudes and behaviour vary within and across nations and within and across ethnicities, and are strongly embedded within communities.
In many respects, Germans can be considered the masters of planning. This is a culture that prizes forward thinking and knowing what they will be doing at a specific time on a specific day. The German thought process is extremely thorough, with each aspect of a project being examined in great detail. Careful planning, in one’s business and personal life, provides a sense of security. Most aspects of German living and working are defined and regulated by structure, for example, through laws, rules, and procedures, which are evident in all economic, political and even social spheres. Rules and regulations allow people to know what is expected so that they can plan their lives accordingly. Germans believe that maintaining clear lines of demarcation between people, places, and things is the surest way to lead a structured and ordered life. In German business culture, this is reflected in the adherence to prescribed business rules resulting in, a low degree of flexibility and spontaneity in attitudes and values.
Germans do not like surprises. Sudden changes in business transactions, even if they may improve the outcome, are unwelcome. Business is viewed as being very serious, and Germans do not appreciate humour in a business context. In addition, counterparts do not need or expect to be complimented.
Work and personal lives are rigidly divided, and Germans subscribe to the ideal that there is a proper time and place for every activity.
When doing business in Germany, it is essential that you appreciate that business etiquette is of great importance to your German counterpart. Germany is a nation that is strongly individualistic, and demands the utmost respect at all times, therefore the highest of standards are expected. Any unethical behaviour will seriously diminish all future business negotiations.
Business executives who hope to profit from their travels in Europe should learn about the culture and customs of the countries that they wish to visit. Flexibility and cultural adaptation should be the guiding principles for doing business in this country. Business manners and methods, religious customs, corporate social responsibilities, are all covered in the following sections. Some of the cultural distinctions that businesspeople most often face include differences in business styles, attitudes towards the development of business relationships, attitudes toward punctuality, gift-giving customs and the meanings of colours and numbers.
Corporate Social Responsibility:-
The German government takes environmental issues in the country extremely seriously and the inclusion of the Green party in the ruling coalition over the past few years has greatly influenced Germany’s energy and environmental policy objectives. From phasing out nuclear power to promoting energy efficiency and renewable energy, Germany has become a pioneer within the EU in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and in making alternative fuel sources viable. As a result, Germany has become the world leader in wind energy.
Despite this however, emissions from coal-burning utilities and industries contribute to air pollution and acid rain in Germany, and are damaging the country’s forests. Pollution in the Baltic Sea from raw sewage and industrial effluents from rivers in Eastern Germany, along with hazardous waste disposal remain environmental problems for Germany.
In 2000, the government established a mechanism for ending the use of nuclear power over the next 15 years. The government is also working to meet the EU’s commitment to the preservation of nature.
Germany leads Europe by having the greatest solar and wind electricity generating capacity on the continent.
Germans are most comfortable when they can organise and compartmentalise their world into controllable units. Time, therefore, is managed carefully, and calendars, schedules and agendas must be respected. Trains arrive and leave on time to the minute, projects are carefully scheduled, and organisation charts are meticulously detailed.
Do not turn up late for an appointment or when meeting people. Germans are extremely punctual, and even a few minutes delay can offend. If you are going to be even slightly late, call ahead and explain your situation. Be five to 10 minutes early for important appointments.
Business Dress Code:-
Germans take great pride in dressing well, regardless of where they are going or what position they hold. Appearance and presentation is very important to Germans, particularly with regard to business.
Even when dressed informally, they are neat and conservative; their clothes are never ostentatious. The following points give an insight into the correct dress code suitable for conducting business in Germany:
- Being well and correctly dressed is very important. Casual or sloppy attire is frowned upon.
- Business dress in Germany is understated, formal and conservative
- Businessmen should wear dark coloured, conservative business suits; solid, conservative ties, and white shirts.
- Women also dress conservatively, in dark suits and white blouses or conservative dresses. This form of dress is observed even in comparatively warm weather. Do not remove your jacket or tie before your German colleague does so.
- Women are recommended to refrain from wearing heavy make-up and ostentatious jewellery or accessories.
- Do not be surprised however, if occasionally you do see a fashion statement with white socks being worn with a dark suit
The following section focuses on the communication aspects of business practice and outlines practical points that you should consider and use when making contact with a German counterpart.
In business and in the workplace, on the domestic front and in our social lives, we all stand to benefit from more effective communication skills. Every country has its own way of saying things. The important thing is what lies behind people’s words. Communicating across cultures begins with the basic understanding that one size does not fit all. Simply because you practice certain cultural habits or patterns does not mean the rest of the world does as well. Failing to recognise and adapt to this cultural diversity can mean the difference between success and failure.
The main criterion for effective communication is to understand the culture of the country. Culture provides a framework for acceptable behaviour and the differences in ideals need to be recognised, valued and appreciated before any real communication can take place. Gestures and styles of conversation may vary between your country and Germany. Topics and gestures you may deem normal and acceptable could possibly be viewed as taboo here. Such errors in communication may have a serious impact on the success of the negotiation process. While Germany is an extremely culturally aware nation, they also have expectations when it comes to others understanding their culture as an independent country – so preparation is a must if you are to build a positive image from the beginning of negotiations.
To become successful as a cross-cultural communicator in Germany:
- Remember that while your own culture provides an acceptable framework for behaviour and belief, your preferences and behaviours are culturally based and not necessarily the “correct” or only ones.
- Become sensitive to a range of verbal and non-verbal behaviour.
- Have an open mind to other views and ways of doing things.
- Remember there are no universal gestures
The following section will provide you with information on both verbal and non-verbal communication issues in Germany. It focuses on the initial stage of contact as an important factor examined together with the application of communication skills in business practice in Germany.
The general business practices discussed will apply to the majority of everyday business dealings and situations. However, it is crucial to bear in mind that the recommendations outlined are indicators of best practice and one should include distinctive local customs, habits and traditions when doing business in Germany.
Meetings come in all shapes and sizes, and are more important than ever in business today. There are everyday office meetings, board meetings, and seminars. Meetings can now be conducted in a plethora of ways: face-to-face, by teleconference, video-conference, or online via the Internet. Meetings are a common feature of corporate life in Germany.
The contents of the meeting and the appropriate negotiation strategies should take into account the cultural habits and customs of the country. The appropriate steps should be taken in preparing an agenda and it is advisable to circulate agendas in advance to ensure everyone is prepared. Ensure that the facilities that you require for the business meeting are available and ready to use. Presentations should be well prepared, comprehensive, clear, well written, and informative and should be presented in a formal, rational, professional manner – appealing always to the intellect of business people in Germany.
The following sections deal with the various stages of a business meeting and examine the issues of cultural sensitivity in this area.
Importance of Business Meeting:-
Meetings are taken seriously in Germany and may go into considerable detail. Business meetings follow a formal procedure. German managers work from precise and detailed agendas, which are usually followed rigorously; moreover, meetings always aim for decisive outcomes and results, rather than providing a forum for open and general discussion. The formality of a meeting may make it difficult for an outsider to assess how things are going, but a lengthy examination of a proposal will indicate serious intent.
In German business dealings, it is important to provide solid facts and examples to back up proposals, given the German preference for analytical thinking and rational explanations. Do not use exaggerated or indirect communication styles during business meetings with your German counterparts as this will be viewed with suspicion. German business culture has a well-defined and strictly observed hierarchy, with clear responsibilities and distinctions between roles and departments. In formal German business meetings, it is customary for the highest-ranking person to enter the room first. However, in more informal business situations this is less important. Contacts are vital to a business’s success in Germany. Use a bank, German representative or the “Industrie- und Handelskammer” (Chamber of Industry and Commerce) whenever possible.
Business Meeting planning:-
When setting up a meeting with your German counterparts, there are a number of matters to consider in order to ensure the most advantageous outcome from your negotiations. Think about the following before your process begins:
- Appointments in Germany are mandatory and meetings in German companies are generally scheduled well in advance.
- It is advisable that you make appointments a few weeks beforehand by telephone or fax. Allow up to four weeks to make appointments if using the mail. Brief preliminary meetings may sometimes be arranged at short notice.
- Try to avoid business meetings in the months of July and August or around the times of national holidays
- The planning process is often very time consuming. However, once this is over, a project will move very quickly and deadlines are expected to be honoured.
- Letters should be addressed to the lead person in the functional area, including the person’s name as well as their proper business title. Rank is very important in German business. Never set up a meeting for a lower ranked company employee to meet with a higher ranked person.
- If you write to schedule an appointment, the letter should be written in German.
- Expeditious handling of correspondence is mandatory. Telephone calls and faxes should be returned promptly.
- Although German is the preferred business language, most upper level managers are quite capable of carrying on a conversation in English.
- Punctuality is taken extremely seriously. If you expect to be delayed, telephone immediately and offer an explanation. It is extremely rude to cancel a meeting at the last minute and it could jeopardise your business relationship.
- Meetings are generally formal and initial meetings are used for the parties to get to know each other. They allow your German colleagues to determine if you are trustworthy.
- Participants must arrive punctually and dress up rather than down for the occasion.
As with most European countries, meetings etiquette in Germany relies on professionalism, good business sense and formality. Bearing the above in mind, together with a positive attitude will ensure good results.